New Research Finds Marijuana Offenders Crowding Nation's Prisons and Jails 6/18/99

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WASHINGTON, DC -- Nearly 60,000 marijuana offenders are incarcerated in the United States at any given time, according to a study published in the Federation of American Scientists' "Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin." More than a quarter of marijuana offenders are incarcerated for personal possession, with no other drugs involved in the offense.

The total cost to taxpayers of marijuana-related incarceration exceeds $1.2 billion per year, according to the study. "The latest figures cast serious doubt on the argument that marijuana incarceration costs are low enough to be ignored," the study concluded.

The study, "Marijuana Arrests and Incarceration in the United States," was undertaken for the FAS journal by Chuck Thomas, Director of Communications at the Marijuana Policy Project. Based on raw data recently obtained from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the estimated number of incarcerated marijuana offenders is probably the most precise figure ever calculated.

The study also found that there were more than 700,000 marijuana arrests in the United States in 1997, according to the most recent data available from the FBI, 87% for personal possession of marijuana, rather than sale or manufacture.

According to the new study:

  • At any one time, 59,300 prisoners charged with or convicted of violating marijuana laws are behind bars. (Because many serve less than a year, the total number who pass through the prison system each year, while difficult to estimate, is even greater.)
  • Of the people incarcerated in federal and state prisons and in local jails, 37,500 were charged with marijuana offenses only, and an additional 21,800 were charged with both marijuana offenses and other controlled substances offenses.
  • Of the marijuana-only offenders, 15,400 are incarcerated for possession, not trafficking.


"Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey and other drug warriors argue that people do not really get arrested or incarcerated for minor marijuana offenses," said Thomas. "This study proves them wrong. The drug war is very much about sending small-time, non-violent marijuana offenders to jail."

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Issue #95, 6/18/99 Reformers Slandered, Harassed and Threatened at House Subcommittee Hearings on Legalization | Juvenile Justice Bill Expected to Pass with Worst Provisions Intact | Swiss Vote Again to Continue Heroin Experiment | Palliative or Repressive? Conservative-Sponsored Legislation Impacts on Pain, Suicide and Drug Policy Debates | Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Moves to House Floor | Geraldo Rivera Drug War Report This Weekend (6/20) | Newsbriefs | RESOURCES: Kids and Drug Education, Drug Control Strategies, Medical Marijuana Report, Hemp Video | New Research Finds Marijuana Offenders Crowding Nation's Prisons and Jails | Canadian Senator Urges Drug Policy Review, Endorses Legalization of Marijuana, Soft Drugs | Errata on Breyer Appointment | Editorial: US House of Repression
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